|Kawagoe is a samurai-era town that looks much like it did hundreds of years ago. You can get there in as few as 26 minutes from Ikebukuro, Tokyo’s massive transportation hub, on the Tobu Railway and a round trip is just ¥970 if you use the Kawagoe Discount Pass Premium.
It’s so easy to make a fun day trip out of it from Tokyo that the number of overseas visitors has jumped dramatically in recent years. If you search for #kawagoe on Instagram, you’ll see beautiful pictures of the town that people from all over the world have posted. In this article, we’ll showcase some of the amazing history, food, experiences, and townscapes that Kawagoe has to offer.
Soak up the Edo period in the streets of Kawagoe
Back when Tokyo was still called Edo, Kawagoe was a lively distribution hub where merchants bought and sold crops, textiles, and more.
Edo became Tokyo about 150 years ago, and the entire city modernized rapidly after that. But Kawagoe decided to do whatever it could to preserve its Edo-period culture and look.
To start off, Kawagoe’s kura-style streets are a must-see. Back in the day, large kura warehouses belonging to local merchants lined the town, and the look of that bygone era still remains. If you hang out in the scene long enough, you’ll start to feel like you’re actually being transported back to the Edo era.
As you wander through the kura-style streets, you’ll hear the gong of a bell ring out every now and then. It’s a timekeeping bell that is housed in a turret 16 meters high, and has become a symbol of the town.
The bell was constructed by Sakai Tadakatsu, a 17th-century military commander and feudal lord of Kawagoe. The bell tower has been keeping time for the people of the town for over three hundred years, and though it has been destroyed by fire several times, the merchants of Kawagoe were so fond of it that it was always reconstructed. The current tower was immediately rebuilt after being lost to a major conflagration in 1893.Apparently, the merchants were more concerned with rebuilding the bell than rebuilding their own shops. The same beloved sound of the Kawagoe bell can still be heard today at 6 AM, noon, 3 PM, and 6 PM.
Put on a kimono and get into character as you stroll the old Edo-period streets
You’ll notice a lot of people wearing kimono as they enjoy strolling through the streets of Kawagoe. It’s a great way to dive deeper into the historical feel of the town—so stop by a kimono rental shop and get in on the fun!
Vivian is one of the shops offering this service. Prices start at ¥2,000 for twenty minutes, making it possible for Japanese and overseas visitors alike to easily transform their look. You’ll feel just like a local Edo girl as you stroll the historical streets in a beautiful kimono. Not to mention the amazing photos you can post on your social media accounts!
Sweet potatoes, beer, and other local Kawagoe delights
There’s no way you’ll be able to walk the historical streets of Kawagoe all day without getting hungry… so we recommend you make a stop at Koedo Osatsuan, located very close to the timekeeping bell. Kawagoe has been famous for its bountiful sweet potato crop since the samurai era.
One of the most popular items at Koedo Osatsuan are its fried sweet potato slices, which it calls “Osatsu chips”. First of all, they’re impressively enormous—but the fact that their seasoned simply with salt also brings out the delicious natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes.
The best thing to drink with your Osatsu chips is some local Kawagoe beer. Coedo Beer is a craft beer brewed here, and you can buy it in local pubs and cafés.
Premium Kawagoe sweet potatoes are the secret ingredient in this highly decorated beer, which won the gold medal during the European Beer Star Awards in 2010 for its clean, easy-drinking flavor. It even comes in cute little bottles which are perfect for a relaxing interlude as you wander the streets.
Head to Instagram-famous Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine at eight in the morning and get your love fortune told!
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is a local shine whose history dates back more than 1500 years. The Kawagoe Festival is held there every fall, featuring numerous massive floats to the delight of both locals and tourists alike.
But there is another reason that so many people are drawn to Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine: because it enshrines husband-and-wife deities, it is said to be lucky for love matches.
On the shrine grounds you can draw your omikuji fortune to try your future luck. The adorable fish-shaped fortunes are said to predict the success of your love life.
Another shrine happening that is hugely popular on Instagram is the love-match wind bell event held there each summer
Furin are glass bells with a strip of paper that flutters in the breeze, creating a light, tinkling sound that the Japanese people have long used as a way to inspire a cool feeling that helps them forget the heat of summer.
The grounds of Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine are decorated with some 2,000 furin in summer, creating a tunnel of wind bells that offers visitors cooling respite from the heat.
There are also ema tablets that people offer up to the gods after writing their love wishes on them. These are also hung in a tunnel to draw in worshippers visiting the shrine. The tablets have love wishes on them from all over the world.
It’s also great to go to Kawagoe Hikawa first thing in the morning if you can. At eight in the morning, they hand out just twenty “love match treasures”.
Normally it would be considered sacrilegious in Japan to take rocks or plants from a shrine, but this shrine has a legend that says that those who take pebbles home from the shrine grounds and treat them with reverence will be blessed with happy relationships. The white pebbles in front of the main shrine building are therefore handed out to visitors as “love match treasures”.
Enjoy delicious Japanese cuisine in the restaurants at the Tobu Department Store
Even if you get tuckered out from walking around the retro streets of Kawagoe all day, you can quickly zoom back to Ikebukuro by hopping on the Tobu Railway. And since it’s a major transportation hub, there are all kinds of hotels to stay in there as well. Ikebukuro also offers convenient access to other Tokyo hotspots like Shibuya and Akihabara.
Once you get back to Ikebukuro, you’ll have tons of Japanese food options to choose from. The restaurant floor of the Tobu Department Store, which is located at the west exit of Ikebukuro Station, has more than forty restaurants.
Hageten is famous for its tempura, while Ningyocho Imahan is a longstanding sukiyaki and shabu-shabu restaurant. The floor has everything from Minokichi, a high-end Kyoto-style kaiseki restaurant, to more casual eateries offering popular favorites like ramen, conveyor-belt sushi, and tonkatsu cutlets. Take the time to digest your day in Kawagoe, continuing the Japanese cultural theme as you delight your taste buds as well.
Kawagoe makes for a fantastic day trip from Ikebukuro. The Tobu Railway offers a roundtrip discount pass called the Kawagoe Discount Pass, or you can get a package ticket called the Kawagoe Discount Pass Premium that includes unlimited bus rides for the day as well. Visiting this carefully-preserved samurai town is a delightful journey deeper into Japanese culture.
Address: 14-5 Saiwaicho, Kawagoe, Saitama
Getting there: About a seven-minute bus ride from Tobu Railway Kawagoe Station
Address: 15-21 Saiwaicho, Kawagoe, Saitama
Getting there: About a seven-minute bus ride from Tobu Railway Kawagoe Station
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
2-11-3 Miyashita-machi, Kawagoe, Saitama
Getting there: About a ten-minute bus ride from Tobu Railway Kawagoe Station
Tobu Department Store Ikebukuro
Address: 1-1-25 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Getting there: Directly linked to Ikebukuro Station (all lines)
KAWAGOE DISCOUNT PASS
KAWAGOE DISCOUNT PASS Premium
These two passes give you a discount on the Tobu Railway Line roundtrip fare to either Kawagoe Station or Kawagoe-shi Station. The premium pass also allows unlimited rides within a designated area on the Koedo Meisho Meguri Bus, which is perfect for sightseeing around Kawagoe. There are also ten shops along the central shopping street of Kawagoe City where you can present the pass to get discounted services, and you also get a 5% off coupon for the Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro.
KAWAGOE DISCOUNT PASS Price: Adults ¥710, Children ¥370
KAWAGOE DISCOUNT PASS Premium Price: Adults ¥970, Children ¥490